Throughout the pandemic, local and national governments worldwide have been working to improve equitable access to Covid-19 information, testing and vaccines for all communities to prevent sad and unequal outcomes. This blog highlights a number of pandemic best practices from across the globe as part of a new series accompanying the Global Local Recap.
One clear issue with vaccine uptake is making sure everyone has easy access to vaccinations. People frequently experience obstacles to getting vaccinated, from clashes with work to difficulties finding transport to get to vaccination sites.
In Albany County in the US, Mohawk Ambulance and the City of Albany partnered up to ensure vulnerable residents, including seniors, could get a Covid-19 vaccination from the safety of their own home. Mohawk Ambulance took a few months to prepare the operation and were able to secure enough special refrigeration and freezer units to store up to 300,000 vaccine doses. The mobile unit planned to contact senior living communities to find out who wanted the vaccine and then schedule a time when the unit could bring it to them. Officials also asked residents to help their neighbours and let their municipality or county know if they knew an at-risk person who would benefit from the initiative .
In a similar vein, the City of Linz, Austria ensured that all those over 80 who wanted a vaccine could get one by giving out free transport vouchers for people in this age group to travel to and from a vaccination point. This quick and easy-to-use solution was an efficient and effective way to ensure the community could get vaccinated as quickly as possible.
The City of Espoo, Finland offered all of its residents the choice between an at-home vaccination or one in a vaccination centre to ensure people with disabilities and hidden underlying conditions could safely and fairly access vaccines, along with people experiencing anxiety about going to vaccination centres.
In some places, incentives have been used to try to encourage more people from certain groups to get vaccinated and increase overall vaccination rates.
In Cyprus, all people vaccinated between 15 July and 31 August are eligible for a vacation allowance and soldiers are granted five days’ leave. Additionally, all employees and any guardians accompanying children get the day off work for both the first and second rounds of the jab. In this case, these incentives come alongside stricter rules that mean those who are not vaccinated are not able to go to venues including football stadia, cinemas and theatres. This approach aims to ensure that those who can get vaccinated, do.
In Tel Aviv, Israel, young people were targeted in a campaign initiated by the Municipality of Tel Aviv as part of Israel’s vaccination drive. Jenia, a bar in Dizengoff Square, gave away free beer and coffee to young people who had received their vaccination. This was used in combination with special mobile caravans that were dispatched across the city to ensure that vaccines could be available in popular areas. Previously, in Israel, young people were not getting vaccinated due to an aversion to long vaccine queues and the fact that the virus did not seem as dangerous for their demographic.
Access to information
Even where it has been made possible to access vaccinations, if people do not know where or how to receive theirs, uptake will not improve. Therefore many local governments have worked hard to overcome the communication and technological barriers involved, so that everyone knows how to get vaccinated and can access information about the benefits and risks involved. This has been especially important with rampant false information being spread worldwide about the pandemic, Covid-19 and Covid-19 vaccines.
When municipalities in Japan received their Covid-19 vaccines for distribution earlier this year, they expected to receive an influx of questions from the public. The company transcosmos inc. released a service including answers to Frequently Asked Questions and a chatbot to specifically assist municipalities across Japan respond to general enquiries about vaccination. This service sought to reduce staff workload and ensure citizens felt safe and informed. The service additionally provided monthly reporting to help municipalities with the chatbot operation.
Similarly in Fingal, Ireland, Fingal County Council worked with IBM and SureSkills Consulting to develop a virtual agent, powered by artificial intelligence, to answer Covid-19 queries from members of the public online. The agent, based on IBM’s Watson Assistant, has helped to answer thousands of information requests during the pandemic, ranging from enquiries about support with shopping to questions about local planning applications. The online service is intended to make it easier for residents to access important information, while saving time for local government staff.
The multilingual nature of many communities has posed an additional challenge to local governments globally seeking to clearly communicate pandemic information. A single language or broadcasting format is usually not enough to ensure that everyone recognises and understands the situation, which often changes quickly.
In the City of Toronto, Canada, a multilingual vaccination campaign was launched including ads in English, Bengali, Cantonese, Farsi, French, Italian, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tamil, and Urdu. The ‘Let’s Get Toronto Vaccinated’ campaign included specialised media for different communities, including English Second Language groups, across print, radio, television, and digital channels, in a bid to reach as much of Toronto’s 2.9 million population as possible. The ads appeared in 75 different media outlets—30 of them multilingual—and the campaign has been described as Toronto’s largest community mobilisation effort in history.
Similarly in Western Sydney, Australia, Cumberland City Council contacted 500 community leaders, created a letterbox drop in eight languages and circulated social media cards in 12 languages clarifying Covid-19 testing information. This specific campaign was in response to an increasing virus cluster in one of the area’s suburbs, but shows the type of diverse approach needed in order to ensure no one is left out.
Communicating with minority communities
The racial disparities seen in both vaccine uptake and Covid-19 infection rates across the globe have been saddening to see. Governments across the world have worked hard to attempt to bridge the gap and encourage vaccination rates in people of colour.
In Canada, three new Government projects were launched to ensure everyone who wanted a vaccine could get one, particularly in communities that were previously unwilling. Firstly, the Indigenous Primary Health Care Council received funding for the development and implementation of educational outreach sessions, as well as resources for non-Indigenous healthcare providers to improve vaccine uptake among Indigenous people and their families in a culturally-safe and trauma-informed way. Secondly, the University Health Network was given funding for vaccine education initiatives aimed specifically at support workers, to improve their ability to help colleagues, communities and patients make informed Covid-19 vaccine choices. Lastly, Women’s College Hospital was awarded funding to train non-physician practitioners and other key workers in long-term care facilities and home care settings as vaccinators and vaccine advocates.
Across the UK, Imams used Friday prayers in mid-January 2021 to reassure worshippers about the safety and legitimacy of the Covid-19 vaccine. This coordinated move from the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board came amid some scepticism and anxiety within Muslim communities about the vaccines, and concern about slow take-up in some parts of the country.
On a local level, in Anchorage, USA, Black Alaskans have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and a lower rate of vaccination was seen amongst this demographic. This lower vaccination rate was arguably due to problems of equitable access and concerns about the safety and speed of the vaccine rollout, as well as the history of harm done by the US medical community to people of colour. In an attempt to alleviate these worries, community members were given the opportunity to get vaccinated somewhere familiar within the community they live: the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Anchorage. This personal approach, relying on familiarity with and knowledge of the community, proved crucial in finding a local solution.
In South Africa, pension payout points—where thousands queue for their monthly grants—were identified as key locations to get more over 60s signed up for Covid-19 vaccinations in June. With the country far off its 50 per cent vaccination target for over 60s, volunteers flocked to post offices, Boxer Superstores and South African Social Security Agency pay points to help senior citizens register for their Covid-19 vaccines. The volunteers helped individuals dial the free number and fill in their personal details and shared their mobile phones with elderly people who did not have their own. This approach aimed to overcome the issue of technological illiteracy amongst this demographic whose slow vaccine uptake was putting the whole population at risk.
It is clear that speedy vaccination uptake has been crucial to ensuring the safety of communities across the world. Different demographics and communities have had very different needs around communication and practical support to help them get vaccinated, often relying on personalised knowledge and face-time with community members. In examples such as these, local government plays a crucial role in ensuring that no one gets left behind, due to the community-specific knowledge held by local leaders and organisations.
Complex global issues require action at the local level more than ever. Sign up here to receive the new, free Global Local Recap by LGIU. This week’s edition focuses on local government in New Zealand.